Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Volume 5 No. 302 August 28, 2015
 
This Week's Features

Introduction: Son of God and Temple Tax

by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Malankara World

This week's lectionary reading is something most of the people do not pay much attention too. People will be more concerned about the end of summer in North America with the opening of schools, and the upcoming labor day weekend. People in Kerala are more concerned about the Onam festival, the boat races going on or about the upcoming 8-day lent and the nativity of St. Mary. But whenever I think of this miracle of Jesus, I remember our beloved Archbishop His Eminence Yeldho Mor Theethose.

You may recall some events because it has something associated with that which is difficult to forget. In school something we learned always stick to our mind may be because the way it was taught. For example, after over 55 years of first learning about the color of rainbow in our class, I can still recall the colors and order because the teacher told us to remember VIBGYOR. You all know that. It stands for the colors in rainbow, Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange and Red. I do not know what the teachers in North America ask people to associate the colors in rainbow. But VIBGYOR is not something we forget easily.

Similarly, when we studied Aqua Regia in our Chemistry class, the professor explained that is made by mixing concentrated Sulphuric acid and concentrated Hydrochloric acid. If you add them right away there will be a violent reaction and the acid may spill and cause serious burn to you. So, one professor explained the way to make Aqua regia this way:

Take 3 parts concentrated sulphuric acid in a beaker and 1 part concentrated hydrochloric acid in another beaker. Now you pour the hydrochloric acid in to the other beaker.

The professor paused here for the emphasis.

He said, you don't just pour the HCl into H2SO4,

You just ppppppooooooouuuuuurrrrrrrr it. (Pour it very very slowly.)

Due to that demo of the Professor, I will never forget how to make aqua regia.

What has that got to do with this week's lectionary passage?

When His Eminence Theethose thirumeni  made his first visit to St. Basil's Church, Cleveland, Ohio several years ago. Thirumeni sang from the 3rd hour sleebo namaskaram (liturgy) and sung a stanza from Kolos given below:

In Mangenglish it goes like this:

To be technically correct, His eminence actually sung the Jacobite version of the song as follows:

You may have heard this song (assuming you come to church before the Public Celebration of the Liturgy begins - that probably will eliminate about 80% of the people!!). Have you ever stopped to think about what "Pashandar" (The living sacrifice book put it as Pasha nadar - that sounds like a Tamilian politician!)

Theethose thirumeni, like that Chemistry Professor who explained how to make acqua regia over 50 years ago, started explaining what this small paragraph from that song means. The official translation from the book "living sacrifice" is as follows:

"Against those heretics who question the birth from the virgin, the outcome from the tree, the fire rock, and the fish stands as shining example and answer. He who is strong and created the lamb from the tree, water from the fire rock, and coin from the mouth of fish shut down the arguments and close the mouth of the heretics."

OK. It is getting a bit more clearer. All these come from that small paragraph? So, 'pashandar' means heretic, one who question the teachings of the church, right?

Just like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus Christ's days on earth, who were always asking for "signs", people after Jesus' death and resurrection still had questions. Most could not understand how a virgin can become pregnant and deliver without losing virginity. This is an important fundamental teaching of the church - the virgin birth.

To those unbelievers, our church explains the mystery by explaining that everything is possible with God. The church illustrated the mystery by pointing three miracles or mystery behind the miracles - 2 from the old testament and 1 from the new testament. This passage describes those miracles. What are they?

Miracle #1. Genesis 22:13:

Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.
Genesis 22:13 (NKJV)

We know the story here. God asks Abraham to sacrifice, Isaac, his only son. Here is the story from Genesis 22:1-13

Abraham's Faith Confirmed

22 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!"

And he said, "Here I am."

2 Then He said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you."

3 So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. 5 And Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you."

6 So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. 7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!"

And he said, "Here I am, my son."

Then he said, "Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?"

8 And Abraham said, "My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering." So the two of them went together.

9 Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

11 But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!"

So he said, "Here I am."

12 And He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."

13 Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son.

God provides Abraham a ram to use as sacrifice instead of Isaac. Isaac's life was saved. The lesson we learn from this that God can provide anything what we need any time or place.

Miracle #2: Exodus 17:6

Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.

And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

- Exodus 17:6 (NKJV)

Israelies are being led by Moses through the wilderness to the promised land. They camped in a place called Rephidim. It was desert; no water anywhere in sight. Without water, they will be wiped out. God provides them with water from an unlikely source.  Let us read Exodus 17:1-6:

Water from the Rock

17 Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people contended with Moses, and said, "Give us water, that we may drink."

So Moses said to them, "Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the Lord?"

3 And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, "Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?"

4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!"

5 And the Lord said to Moses, "Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink."

And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

God produced water from a rock!! Again shows that God can do anything and can provide us with our necessities in the most unlikely places.

Now we come to the third miracle - a miracle performed by Jesus as reported in St. Matthew's Gospel. Let us take a look.

Miracle #3: Matthew 17:27

"Go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you."

Matthew 17:27 (NKJV)

This is the key passage from this week's Gospel reading, viz., Matthew 17:24-27. So, let us read the entire passage.

Peter and His Master Pay Their Taxes

24 When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, "Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?"

25 He said, "Yes."

And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?"

26 Peter said to Him, "From strangers."

Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are free. 27 Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you."

- Matthew 17:24-27 (NKJV)

So, the third mystery our fathers point out to the heretics is the mystery of Jesus using a fish to pay the Temple Taxes. This is explained in detail in today's Journal as well as the sermons provided. The interesting thing to note is that although this is only described in St. Matthew (St. Matthew, being originally a tax collector, had special interest in money-related matters) and not in any other Gospels, this is an important miracle performed by Jesus and the Triune God.

Thanks to Theethose Thirumeni's teaching a few years ago, explaining malayalam words "ajam" means a goat, "thoyam" means water, "pashandar" means herectics (unbelievers, doubters, etc. ) 'esthira' is the shekel coin etc., I will never forget this miracle. When I sing the kolos (anono nuharo) during the Third Hour Sleeba Namaskaram, I visualize Peter throwing the hook into the water, the fish biting it, Peter pulling the fish to the shore, opens its mouth with anticipation and the excitement on his face when he sees the fish carrying a shekel coin in its mouth. What do you think his reaction was when he saw this miracle? This did not happen by chance. It was the work of God.

With God, everything is planned to the last detail. Nothing is left to chances. The incarnation of Jesus Christ to redeem the mankind from sin was planned by God when Adam sinned. When testing Abraham on his faith to see if he is willing to sacrifice his only son, a son who was born at his old age and perhaps no chance of getting another son to carry his legacy (at least thinking in human terms), God had planned what to sacrifice instead of Isaac and He provided the lamb.

When Israelites spent 40 years in desert, it was a logistic nightmare to provide for them and their animals food, water, etc. Where will you find food and water in the midst of the desert? You are talking about tons and tons of food, enough to require several train-load-full each day. God had planned it like only God can do. He provided manna to drop from heaven. He had birds appear suddenly from nowhere to provide them occasional meat to supplement their meal. Then when they needed water, he provided water from a dry rock!

In this week's miracle, God provides the coin required to pay Jesus' taxes by means of a fish!! And importantly, Jesus also gives us a lesson on caring for others. He provides the money to pay for Peter's tax too!  We see this concern of Jesus all his life in earth. Even when he was hanging on the cross, his concern was how to take care of his mother. So, he entrusted John to take care of his mother. His first miracle at the wedding of Cana also shows how much Jesus cared for others. Even though he knew that his time to publicly display his divine attributes was not yet come, he relented and provided wine by transforming water into wine. When the Canaanite woman kept praying on behalf of her daughter, Jesus Christ relented, although he didn't plan to take his ministry to the Gentiles at that time; the expansion of the ministry was planned for the disciples after his resurrection and ascension. So, God makes plans; but God can also change the plans. In Genesis, we read about God regretting the creation of humans after seeing their evil ways.  But then, since God is love - agape love or unconditional love, he is the happiest person on the earth when we repent and go back to him like the prodigal son.

Our church fathers tell us that mysteries and miracles like these tell us, without a doubt, the divinity of Jesus Christ. It also allows us to learn more about the nature of trinity.

Friday, August 28 is the Thiruvonam. We wish you all a very happy Onam.

 
Jesus Pays His and Peter's Temple Tax
Gospel: Matthew 17:24-27

The Temple tax was one that all Jews were supposed to pay once a year for the upkeep and maintenance of the Temple in Jerusalem. It wasn't a large tax, but it wasn't a small one either, equivalent to about two days' wages for a working man. Because the Temple tax, like most taxes, was unpopular, special tax collectors were assigned to certain areas, and were responsible to see that as many people as possible paid. Perhaps knowing how influential Jesus had become in Galilee, several tax collectors approached Peter to find out if Jesus endorsed and personally paid the tax. Confident that Jesus was a very upright person (to say the least), Peter assured his questioners that Jesus did pay the tax, but then went to talk to Jesus about it. He was perhaps fearful that he had misrepresented Jesus, or he may have been planning on asking Jesus for the money to pay the tax while the tax collectors waited outside.

In a small way, Peter had misrepresented Jesus, and this becomes clear as we read Jesus' and Peter's conversation. As Peter entered the house where Jesus was, before he could ask Him about the Temple tax, Jesus asked Peter a question about who kings normally tax. Unfortunately, if you've been reading the New Living Translation, you missed something significant that Jesus said. In the New American Standard Bible, Jesus' question to Peter is recorded as, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?" Peter responded, "From strangers," to which Jesus replied, "Consequently the sons are exempt" (Matthew 17:25-26). Jesus did not, as the New Living Translation says, contrast citizens of a kingdom and foreigners, but as kings' sons and his subjects.

What difference does this make? A lot. Jesus was not implying that He, being a citizen rather than a foreigner, was exempt from paying the Temple tax. Rather, He was implying that He, the Son of the King of all creation, was exempt from paying a tax on a house that belonged to that King! He was, once again, claiming to be God's Son!

Although He really didn't have a responsibility to pay the Temple tax, Jesus didn't want to offend the tax collectors, indicating that they probably were waiting outside for His money. So He gave Peter instructions for getting enough money to pay the tax for both of them. All Peter had to do was walk to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, throw in a line, and the first fish he caught would have a coin in its mouth that would exactly pay their tax!

Let's use our imaginations to picture what happened next. Peter walks out of the house and says to the waiting tax collectors, "I'll have the money for Jesus' and my tax in just a minute---I just need to go pick it up. Please follow me." Together they walk to the shore where Peter picks up his fishing rod and casts a line into the water. In a second or two, he has a fish on his line and reels it in. He takes the fish off the hook, opens its mouth, reaches in to pull out a coin, and hands it to the astonished tax collectors! I wonder if they had any more questions for Peter after that! I wonder if they became followers of Jesus themselves!

Q. What is it that made this story so miraculous?

A. God may have created a coin for a fish to pick up, but I think that's unlikely because it would make Him a counterfeiter. Therefore, He must have directed a fish to a coin that had accidentally fallen into the water from someone's purse, hand or pocket. So God had to know the exact whereabouts of a lost coin under the water, direct a fish to put it in its mouth, and have that same fish bite Peter's bait at a precise time! On top of all this, God had to let Jesus know in advance what was going to happen so He, in turn, could instruct Peter about getting their tax money!

Application: Although God rarely supplies our needs through coins in the mouths of fish, He often surprises us by using unexpected sources. That way, we are more likely to realize that He is the supplier. He cares about His children, and He loves to provide for them as they trust and obey.

Source: Heavens Family Devotional

The Sons Are Free

by John Piper

Scripture: Matthew 17:22-27

And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; 23 and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day." And they were deeply grieved.

24 When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the two-drachma tax came to Peter and said, "Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?" 25 He said, "Yes."

And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?" 26 When Peter said, "From strangers," Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are exempt. 27 However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me."

There are three reasons why I chose this text for our consideration this morning.

First, Jesus says in verses 22-23, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day."

So the text begins with a prophecy of the Lord about what will happen in Holy Week.

Second, there is a conversation between Jesus and Peter that teaches something wonderful about the freedom that we have as Christians. Verse 26 ends, "Then the sons are exempt (literally "free")."

I want us to see what this freedom is and what a great thing it is to have it.

Third, the passage includes a miracle in verse 27, namely, the coin in the fish's mouth. This shows that Jesus is worthy of our worship and relates the freedom we have as Christians to the way God provides for his free children when they willingly act for love's sake, not under the constraint of law. This applies to the financial challenge we face in the Gideon Venture and the Isaac Factor (see the previous three sermons). Or, more personally, it applies to God's care for you in your situation as a free child of God. Not that God will always work a miracle to get you out of some scrape you're in, but that he will work with omnipotent power to meet all your needs on the path of freedom and love.

So let's start with the second of these reasons and then go to the third and then end with the first, the prophecy of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Two-Drachma Tax

Verse 24: Jesus and his disciples are in Capernaum, Peter's hometown (Mark 1:29). Some Jewish people, whose job was to collect the "two-drachma" temple tax, came to Peter and asked, "Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?" This was not a Roman tax, but a Jewish tax for the upkeep of the temple. It was based loosely on Exodus 30:11-16. So these folks were not your unpatriotic tax collectors that we usually read about who collected for the Romans; they were the very patriotic supporters of the temple who expected Israelites throughout the homeland and beyond to take part in supporting the temple service. So this question ("Does your teacher not pay the two-drachma tax?") was probably a test to see how supportive Jesus would be of the temple service in Jerusalem. Rumors were already circulating that he said disloyal things about the temple.

Peter answered in verse 25, "Yes." When he and Jesus were in the house away from the crowd, Jesus asked Peter (in verse 25b), "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?" So Jesus is not going to let this go by without a lesson being taught.

He brings up a comparison - an analogy. There are kings on the earth who run their kingdoms with money raised from taxes. How are those taxes collected, Jesus asked, from the king's own children or from the rest of the citizens and inhabitants? The analogy pictures God as the king and the temple service as the running of his kingdom and makes a comparison between some people who are the sons of the king and some who are not the sons of the king.

Who Are the Sons and How Are They Free?

Peter answers Jesus' question in verse 26, "From strangers." That is, kings collect taxes from the citizens and inhabitants that are not part of their family. That's the right answer. So "Jesus said to him, 'Then the sons are exempt (=free).'"

So what is the point Jesus is making? Who are the sons that are free and how are they free? Verse 27 gives us the decisive clue. Jesus says to Peter: "However [that is, even though the sons are free] . . . take that and give it to them for you and Me." In other words, you are free, Peter, and I am free, but we will pay the two-drachma temple tax anyway.

So the comparisons are between the kings of the earth and God and between the king's sons and Jesus with his disciples. Which raises a question: Who are the "strangers"? Who are the "citizens and inhabitants" that are not exempt - not free from the temple tax?

Keep in mind here: This temple tax has nothing to do with the Romans. This is a Jewish tax. So if Jesus makes a distinction between the sons who are free and another group who are not free, he is making a distinction within Israel - among two groups of Jews. This is what John the Baptist did before him. It is what Paul would do after him. John the Baptist called for Israel to repent and be a part of a new, true Israel, and not to boast, "We have Abraham as our father" (Matthew 3:9), as if mere Jewish descent made one a child of God. Then Paul said in Romans 9:6-8, "Not all Israel is Israel . .. It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God."

So the answer is that the "strangers" - the "citizens and inhabitants" who are not free are the Jewish people who are rejecting Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus is the Son of God, and those who trust him and follow him are sons of God because of their attachment to Jesus. Matthew 16:15-16: "[Jesus] said to [the disciples], 'But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' And speaking to his disciples he said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God'" (Matthew 5:9).

It's true that Israel was called the son of God in the Old Testament (Exodus 4:22). So how can Jesus now say that some Jews are sons of God and free, and some are not sons of God and not free? The answer is that "sonship" has a new, personal, individual meaning with Jesus. There was a corporate sonship before, but now there is a new, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This new, personal, individual relationship of sonship through Jesus is what Jesus has in mind when he says, "the sons are free."

With the coming of Jesus Christ - the one and only divine, eternal, uncreated Son of God - into the world, a new way of relating to God is made possible. Now there is the real, experienced, conscious union with Jesus Christ that no one had known before the coming of Christ.

It is described in Romans 8:16-17, "The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ." This term, "fellow heirs with Christ," shows how our sonship is connected to Christ's. We are sons along with Jesus Christ when we are in Christ. Not that we are divine, like him, but that we share his inheritance, just as we share his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

That is what Jesus is pointing to here in Matthew 17:26, "The sons are exempt (free)." Those who are Jesus' disciples are the true sons of God and are free from the temple tax, and those who reject him are not the true sons of God and are not free.

But that raises another question: Does this mean that God means for his temple to be supported by unbelievers? No. That is not the point. What, then, is the point?

Jesus the True Meeting Place with God

I think the point is twofold. One is that the temple is passing away and is going to be replaced by Jesus himself as the true meeting place with God; and the other is that Jesus does not say that the true children of God don't pay the tax, but only that they are free not to. In fact, he sends Peter to pay it in verse 27.

The true children of God - the followers of Jesus - are free because Jesus himself is taking the place of the temple. "I am able to destroy the temple of God and to rebuild it in three days" (Matthew 26:61). He was referring to his body. Jesus himself was the new meeting place with God. "Something greater than the temple is here" (Matthew 12:6). Place was giving way to Person. The sons are free because the sons are discovering that the age of the temple in Jerusalem is over. The age of coming to God through Jesus is here.

The other reason Jesus doesn't mean that the temple is to be supported by unbelievers is that he sends the true children of God to support the temple, not because they have to support the temple, but because it might at times be good to for the sake of the gospel. Verse 27: "However, so that we do not offend them. . . . Take that and give it to them for you and Me." In other words, you are free not to pay the tax, but pay it anyway for the sake of not putting an obstacle in the way of my message.

So here's the main point of the passage: Those who trust and follow Jesus as the Son of God are the true children of God and are, therefore, free from the old system of temple worship with its "taxes." This does not mean that we no longer care about the ministry of worship. It means we come to God through Jesus. And if there is, incidentally and culturally, a building involved, we are not forced or coerced to support that building. The sons are free.

The point of verse 27 (the payment of the "tax") seems to be this: If you are a child of God, you decide how you will support a non-essential building (and all of them are now!) not by thinking of yourself as taxed by God, but by thinking of whether there are reasons the building will advance the cause of Jesus Christ - which is not building-oriented, but God-oriented, and kingdom-oriented, and ministry-oriented, and people-oriented.

A Miracle of Freedom and Provision

Now I turn very briefly to the miracle of the coin in the fish's mouth and the introductory words of prophecy that Jesus' death is just ahead.

Verse 27, again: "However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me."

What's the point of the miracle of the coin in the fish's mouth?

Two things at least.

One is this: If Jesus is bringing the temple to an end for the true children of God, because "something greater than the temple is here" (Matthew 12:6), then it is fitting that he show that he is worthy of our worship. This miracle involves divine power and wisdom and knowledge. Someone had to be sure that a shekel (precisely worth four drachmas - two for Jesus and two for Peter) was dropped in the sea. Someone had to be sure that the fish scooped it up, but did not swallow it all the way. Someone had to be sure that the fish that scooped up the coin would be near where Peter drops his hook in the water. And Someone would have to be sure that the fish bites Peter's hook, without swallowing the coin, and stays hooked till he gets the coin. When Jesus says that this is, in fact, all going to happen just as he says, he shows himself to be just what Peter confessed him to be: the Son of God worthy of worship and trust. You don't have to go anywhere or pay anything to worship God. He has come to you. There he is. Here he is!

The other point of the miracle is that when you act in freedom and love -not under coercion or constraint - God himself works for you in ways you would never dream. It's like the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus says to the disciples who have five loaves and two fish borrowed from a little boy, "You feed the five thousand." When they set out to do that (just as when Peter sets out to pay the temple tax), God causes the five loaves and two fish to become enough to feed them all. And God causes a coin to be there in a fish's mouth.

The point is not that God will always work a miracle to get you out of some scrape, but that he will do whatever he has to do to help you pursue the path of freedom and sacrificial love that may seem impossible to you.

The Passion Week

The only thing left to say is this: This whole story was introduced by the omniscient prophecy about the Son of God and Son of Man in verses 22-23: "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; (23) and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day." This sovereign Christ, who governs the drop of a coin and the path of a fish, has set his face like flint toward Jerusalem and death. Why? To purchase for us sinners the glorious things that we have been talking about (Matthew 20:28).

We can't become the children of God; we are sinners. We don't deserve to find a coin in a fish's mouth; we deserve to be thrown into the mouth of hell. We are not free from the condemnation of the law; we are under the curse of the law -unless the Son of Man gives himself freely as a substitute for us on the cross and purchases for us forgiveness from all sin and escape from hell and freedom from condemnation. And that is what Jesus did. That is what Holy Week is all about. That is what we need to believe and embrace, and ponder this week. The foundation of our everlasting freedom as the children of God is the death of Jesus. All God's promised help in our lives was bought by the blood of Christ. Believe this. Cherish it this week. Come and worship and bring a friend to hear about it next Sunday morning -Easter.

2015 Desiring God Foundation.

The Miracles of Jesus Christ: The Coin in the Fish's Mouth

by Martin G. Collins

The miracle of the coin found in the fish's mouth (Matthew 17:24-27) may be among the least dramatic of Christ's miracles, but it is certainly instructive. The context involves the paying of the Temple tax, and not surprisingly, only Matthew, the former tax collector for Rome, reports it. Although he did not collect this particular tax, it still interested him. His account of Christ's life tends to highlight the King and His Kingdom. Why, then, should the King be subject to a tax? Is He not the Son of God, the Heir of all His Father's house?

Coming to Capernaum, the tax collector asks Simon Peter, "Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?" and Peter replies in the affirmative (verses 24-25). This tax was not a Roman civil tax but a religious one supporting the Temple in Jerusalem. God inaugurated this tax in the wilderness, instructing Moses to take a half shekel from every male twenty years and older (Exodus 30:11-16). It provided for the work of the Tabernacle and later of the Temple, including during the time of Christ. This tax was not an evil one per se, helping to cover legitimate costs of the worship of God, but as with almost all taxation, the money was often misused.

1. Does Peter err in how he answers? Matthew 17:25, 27.

Comment: Peter appears concerned that Jesus would not be esteemed a good Jew if He did not pay the tax. Not wanting to bring dishonor and danger on Him, he acknowledges Jesus' liability to pay the taxes as if He were a mere son of Israel. His reply implies that Jesus had paid the tax and would continue to do as every devout Jew should. When Peter enters the house, Jesus immediately asks him about taxation: "From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?" This demonstration of Christ's knowing what Peter had discussed elsewhere proves to the disciple that His divine omniscience is not limited by distance.

Peter answers the question with the only possible answer, "From strangers," and Jesus replies, "Then the sons are free." He refers to Peter and Himself as both sons of the Father, the Sovereign of the Temple, and therefore, free from the tax. However, rather than cause offense, Jesus arranges for the money to be found in a most miraculous way.

Technically, Peter errs about the legality of taxing the Son of God, but Jesus uses the principle of not needlessly offending a brother (Luke 17:1-2) to positively express His divinity and spiritual power: He performs a miracle. Christ is so considerate that He would rather pay any amount, however unjust or objectionable, than endanger God's work by unnecessarily provoking negative comments that would hurt its credibility, saying, "lest we offend them" (Matthew 17:27). His example should inspire us for when we feel slighted or taken advantage of (Romans 14:21-22).

2. How much control over the situation does Christ demonstrate? How precise is this miracle? Matthew 17:27.

Comment: Jesus' miracle consists, not only in His omniscience - knowing that the fish would yield the necessary money - but also in the fact that the first fish that took Peter's hook contained the precise sum required. The purpose and pleasure of Christ's will - which all creation obeys - guided that single fish out of multiple schools in the lake to Peter's hook. Christ, the Lord of Creation, controls all things, even the sea's fish and the earth's silver.

In describing Christ as the Word, the apostle John writes, "All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made" (John 1:3). Paul confirms this in Colossians 1:16, "For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him."

Using His spiritual power, He makes a fish produce the exact amount of silver coin to pay the Temple dues. This miracle reminds the disciples that He is indeed the omnipotent Son of God who controls all creation.

3. How carefully conceived is this miracle? How does Jesus view His relationship with His disciples? Matthew 17:24, 27.

Comment: The Greek word behind "tax" (NKJV) or "tribute" (KJV) in verse 24 is didrachma, equivalent to the Jewish "half-shekel," the Temple rate paid by every male Israelite above age twenty. Those responsible for collecting these half-shekels came to Peter. Unlike tolls, which were duties on goods, the Temple tax was levied on individual Israelites. The collected money, paid into the Temple treasury, defrayed the cost of Temple services. The Jews were much more willing to accept this collection than to pay the despised publicans who extracted taxes for Rome.

The miracle's preciseness is seen in the coin found in the fish's mouth, a full shekel (two didrachmas) - half a shekel each for Christ and Peter ("for Me and you"; verse 27) - the exact amount to satisfy the requirement. In this way, Jesus puts Himself alongside Peter as sharing His position and relationship as a son of the Kingdom. All true Christians fill this amazing position: They are no longer servants, but sons in Christ (Galatians 3:26). With His brethren Jesus shares His family relationship to His Father (John 20:17).

This account contains two principles. The first is doctrinal, teaching Jesus' place in God's Kingdom as the rightful Son. The second is moral, showing that greatness in the Kingdom derives from service and humility. Jesus' phrase, "lest we offend them," should motivate us to employ meekness and wisdom.

Source: Forerunner, "Bible Study," November-December 2012
2012 CGG

The Lessons Taught by The Episode and Miracle Described in Matthew 14:24-27

by A. Maclaren, D. D.

Gospel: Matthew 17:24-27

And when they were come to Capernaum, they that received tribute money came to Peter, and said, Does not your master pay tribute?

I. THE FREEDOM OF THE SON.

To this position and privilege Christ here lays claim for Himself. What a deduction must be made from the wisdom of His teaching, and from the meekness of His Spirit, if that claim was an illusion! For what did He reply?

1. That He had no need of a ransom for His soul.

2. That He needed no temple to worship in.

II. THE VOLUNTARY SUBMISSION OF THE SON TO THE BONDS FROM WHICH HE IS FREE.

Self-sacrifice even in the smallest details of His life.

III. THE SUPERNATURAL GLORY THAT EVER ACCOMPANIES THE HUMILIATION OF THE SON.

He so submits as, even in submitting, to assert His Divine dignity. In the midst of the act of submission, majesty flashes forth, A multiform miracle containing many miracles in one a miracle of omniscience, and a miracle of influence over the lower creatures, is wrought. The first fish that rises carries in its mouth the exact stun needed. The miracle was for a trivial end in appearance, but it was a demonstration, though to one man only at first, yet through him to all the world, that this Christ, in His lowliness, is the Everlasting Son of the Father.

IV. THE SUFFICIENCY FOR US ALL OF WHAT HE PROVIDES.

That which He brings to us by supernatural act, far greater than the miracle here, is enough for all the claims and obligations that God, or man, or law, or conscience, have upon any of us. His perfect obedience and stainless life discharged for Himself all the obligations under which He came as a man, to law and righteousness; His perfect life and His mighty death are for us the full discharge of all that can be brought against us.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Source: The Biblical Illustrator, Copyright 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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